Short in tooth, Biggs is smile in sour year Towson State: In a season thin on wins, slender Ralph Biggs has carried much more than his weight for Tigers.

February 11, 1997|By Roch Eric Kubatko | Roch Eric Kubatko,SUN STAFF

If Ralph Biggs believed in omens, he would have picked up his tooth and gone home.

Playing a friendly game of basketball five months ago at Towson State's Burdick Hall, Biggs took an accidental shot in the mouth from sophomore DaVonn Harp. The blow altered his smile, but not his feeling that the sport isn't much fun without a little contact.

And for Biggs, Towson State's junior forward, the fun was just beginning.

This would be his first season as a full-time starter since he left Washington High in North Carolina. Instead of providing a spark off the bench, he would give the Tigers a dependable, durable scorer.

He's playing 32 minutes a game, the most on the team, and his 18.0-point average ranks third in America East. Three times, he has set career highs in scoring, including back-to-back games with 28 and 32 points last month, and has failed to reach double figures only twice.

"He's one kid who's just been a constant," said coach Terry Truax. "[This was] practice No. 75, and he's never missed one."

In December, Biggs became the first Tiger to play all 40 minutes of a game since Kurk Lee in 1989. No wonder he can't gain any weight.

At 6 feet 6 and 170 pounds, Biggs is about as wide as a garden hose. He's tried eating more, but still is in danger of getting sucked down the shower drain.

"I guess I'm going to be thin forever," said Biggs, who averaged 6.3 points in two previous seasons. "My brother [Calvin, 19] is 6 feet, 215 pounds. He got all the weight in the family."

Biggs got most of the grit. He played power forward last season while Ralph Blalock filled the three spot, and he didn't back down from anybody.

"I'm smaller than the big guys, so I'm going to try to get there before they do, brace myself for the contact," he said. "I like to bump and bang; it seems like you get a better feel for the game, you really feel like you're playing. Maybe that comes from being a center in high school."

"His nickname is Big Biggs," said senior guard Michael Keyes. "The first time I saw him, he was down there banging, playing with the big guys down low, so I figured he must really like it. I wonder a lot how his small frame is in there getting rebounds and tip-ins over all these muscle guys. It's just amazing. It's a tribute to him and how hard he works."

Biggs has extended the range on his jumper, but most of his points still come in transition, off the boards and at the line, where he's shooting 79 percent.

"I'm more comfortable going to the basket and around the basket," he said. "Most of the time I've got smaller people on me and I try to post up, use my height and jumping ability."

Nothing Biggs does can smooth the rocky course Towson State has traveled this season. The Tigers are 5-17, including 2-13 in the conference.

"If our record was reversed, I'd be a lot happier right now," said Biggs, who is second on the team in rebounding at 6.4 and is shooting 52 percent from the field. "I'm having my best year here point-wise, but not win-wise. It takes away a lot of the personal satisfaction when you're not winning.

"It seems like after we work one problem out, another one comes up. None of us like to lose, but we just try to pick out the positives after every game and get better."

No one has improved as much as Biggs, who continues to produce despite Towson State's ineffective guard play and free-lance passing, which has all but eliminated the baseline lob. He's also brought some much-needed experience to a young team missing the likes of Blalock, Scooter Alexander, Quintin Moody and Stevie Thomas.

"When more minutes came, more shots came. That has a lot to do with it," he said. "My first two years here, I wasn't comfortable with what I was doing, but I did it because it was what the team needed. I said, 'Well, this is my role for now.' I was waiting for this chance to play more.

"I knew I had to pick up my offense, but I didn't think I'd be this much of a scorer."

Neither did Truax. "I didn't expect him to have these numbers. He didn't demonstrate that kind of shooting as a freshman. I wish I had the courage to play him at two. I like a big guard, but it would put more demands on him defensively."

While in high school, Biggs drew some interest from colleges closer to home, especially North Carolina-Asheville, which wanted him to sign early. He resisted, and Towson State swooped in, getting a commitment from Biggs in May of his senior season, on the final day of the signing period.

Truax said he heard about Biggs through a friend who marveled at how "there would be all these 6-8, physical guys in there, the shot goes up and all of a sudden, this little, skinny kid comes out of the pack with the ball." Then-assistant coach Adrian Dantley drove down to watch him play, and said, " 'Oh yeah, he's got the ability,' " Truax said. "We were really fortunate to come in late and get someone like him."

Said Biggs: "I needed a change of pace. North Carolina is kind of slow, kind of a country state. I wanted to try something different, get away from my family and become independent. But I still go home a lot."

He won't do much relaxing this summer.

Opponents have been concentrating more on stopping Biggs during Towson State's second run through the conference, and that will continue next season. That's why he'll work to improve his shooting and not be as predictable when making a move to the basket.

"I go to my right 80 percent of the time, at least," he said.

Except for the losing, just about everything has gone right for Ralph Biggs this season.

Pub Date: 2/11/97

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